Anil Swarup, former Secretary in the Coal Ministry, shares his thoughts on the coal sector. Excerpts:


How do you think the NDA has dealt with the coal controversy? How would you rate its performance on a scale of 1-5?

I can talk about the sector when I was there. …so I can tell you what happened between 2014 and 2016 because as you rightly said, it was crisis in the real sense of the term.

What was perceived to have gone wrong were these scams. It was felt that because of these scams the country was facing a huge crisis — there was a shortage of coal. I looked at it very intensely and I discovered that scams were not a problem. In fact, they were a consequence. So I tried to understand why the scams happened.

Initially, my job was to see how we can take care of the judgment of the Supreme Court, because it had stopped mining from, or it was to stop mining from March 31, 2015 in about 90-odd mines, it did cancel 204 mines, of which 90 were actually producing coal.


What was the gamechanger?

The real story, as I said, was increasing production. How do you go about continuing production of coal after April 1, 2015? How do we improve coal production? So we worked out an auction process.

And that took us to the next step. That coal production meant dealing with land and environmental issues and evacuation. All issues had to be addressed in totality.


Any unfinished agenda…

Coal production (after an increase) has stagnated.

Unfortunately, Coal India, which was thriving on account of an outstanding work, was left without a regular Chairman from August 2017 for almost a year.

We had worked out a very detailed action plan, mine-wise, on how to increase production. But any plan, more so in excavation of coal, requires money. Coal India was sitting on cash reserves and this money was to be used for increasing production. But most of the money was taken away by the government by way of dividend to balance budget. And finally the miner was asked to do other taskslike Swacch Bharat work. It was doing everything else, but core work. Let the miner do its job.